Recruiting Issues on Twitch: The US Military Wrestles with the First Amendment

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Twitch, the popular live streaming platform owned by Amazon, averaged 15 million daily viewers in 2018. Of those 15 million, 41% were in the age range of 16-24. Individuals, corporations, and even the military realize Twitch is an expanding market with the younger generation.

To capitalize on this, the United States Army and Navy have begun streaming on Twitch. Troops will stream themselves playing games such as “Call of Duty” and discuss the process, awards, and experience of joining the military. This allows the military to talk to hundreds, if not thousands, of people at once. The Army and Navy no longer have to table at colleges or career fairs. Instead, they can tout the benefits of the military from behind a computer screen, all while reaching a significantly bigger audience.

However, both the Army and Navy Twitch channels are not always the most welcomed channels on Twitch. Users will pop up in the Twitch chat to confront streamers about the United States’ war history, sometimes spamming the chat with comments. While Twitch allows streamers to ban users from their channels, both the Army and Navy Twitch channels have been caught under fire. Recently, both the Army and Navy Twitch channels banned hundreds of Twitch users from their channels. This led to an outcry as civil rights groups asserted that both channels were violating users’ First Amendment rights by blocking them. Courts have previously ruled that government-run social media accounts constitute public forums. Therefore, the government cannot block people based on their comments or views, including spamming a chat about war crimes. We saw an example of this last July when a federal appeals court ruled that President Trump could not block people from his Twitter account.

In response to this incident, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced plans to prevent the military from using video games to recruit individuals. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is attempting to pass a bill that would prevent the military from using federal funds to participate in livestreaming or esports. The American Civil Liberties Union has even called out the Army over their banning of users.

Both the Army and Navy Twitch channels took a brief hiatus from streaming to re-examine their policies. The Army recently announced they are reversing the ban on three hundred accounts. However, it’ll be interesting to see how both channels moderate their respective channels moving forward. Will these branches of the military be able to handle Twitch chat, or will they ban users and force the legislature or judiciary to step in?

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